Extra-large grade-A free-range organic composer.

October 18, 2010 Comments Off on Extra-large grade-A free-range organic composer.

Last night my composing dry spell finally broke, and I wrote maybe ten measures of “Le ballade des pendus,” which is pretty good. Simon arrived towards the end of my composing spree, and, flushed with my success, I overflowed with thoughts about what I had written and my composing style in general. It was great to talk to him about it. I’d hesitated because he is very critical of music, and his style is very different from mine. But last night I was breaking away from my normal style, so I got brave. I don’t have many people I can talk to my music about, so it was really great to be able to chatter like that. Here are some of my thoughts.

It is frustrating that I don’t pay attention to chords. I don’t understand chord structure and sometimes I can hear a great chord in my head but can’t find it on the keys. I tend to ground myself on IV-V-I progressions (I do love me a good IV chord), and I think eventually everything I write will sound the same unless I turn this around.

I avoid sharp dissonances that don’t resolve. This is annoying because many of my very very favorite composers (Barber, Copland) DO use harsh dissonances; the key is knowing how to flesh them out with more notes and how to incorporate them well into the driving movement of the melody. But with Barber, in particular, I don’t like his stuff right away, not until I’ve played through the piano part several times and gotten the melody in my head. If I don’t like awesome music immediately, how will I ever be able to write it?

The final problem is that I don’t even try stuff I don’t think I’ll like. “Le ballade des pendus” began with an ascending line of sixths between soprano and tenor, and it sounded simplistic but I needed the scale to establish the mode. Simon suggested I try the line in sevenths instead, and I tried it, blustering scornfully, only to find that actually it made it quite amazing. I guess I just need to expand my repertoire of things to try before I settle on a progression. Simon suggested that I set a poem to chords without worrying about the melody or how many parts I had. It’s an interesting exercise, and I think I’ll do it. Now to pick a poem…

I guess learning to be an extra-large grade-A free-range organic composer means some pick-and-shovel work, some trial and error, but I always end up miffed by these kinds of things. Isn’t being a creative genius supposed to mean that you sit down at the piano before you can walk and write a symphony by the time you’re four? No one is supposed to tell you how to get to where you need to be, and you’re not supposed to need help getting there. But I guess there’s no shame in it. After all, I was enrolled in Composition for a few weeks. (Bleurgh.) And I quit because I wasn’t learning what I wanted to learn. I guess I know I need to actually learn stuff, I just have to man up when it really comes down to it. I keep telling people that, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve already begun on my career. Probably a little work is a fair trade-off.


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